Britain’s haulage industry is “sleep-walking” — or perhaps that should be sleep-driving — into a shortage of drivers because of an ageing and increasingly unhealthy workforce, putting the health of the economy at risk.
According to the Unite union, the industry’s failure to recruit younger workers means the average age of a large goods vehicle driver has increased from 45.3 years in 2001 to 48 in 2016, with 13 per cent aged over 60 and only 1 per cent under 25.
Unite says the skills shortage is likely to be exacerbated by Brexit as many British haulage firms have become reliant on eastern European drivers. It quotes figures suggesting that between 43,000 and 60,000 of the UK’s 250,000 drivers are from the European Union.
It cites “incredibly high” levels of injury and ill health as a big factor, the main issues being musculoskeletal problems, stress, depression and anxiety. It said research showed that long-haul driving, in particular, was causing unhealthy lifestyles with obesity, high blood pressure, lack of sleep and diabetes all commonplace. Unite said the health problems could be a contributory factor to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. In April, a confidential survey by the union of its heavy goods vehicle drivers found that 29 per cent admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel.
Adrian Jones, Unite’s national officer, said that to recruit new drivers and retain existing workers the industry needed to have “a long hard look at itself and end the race to the bottom attitude . . . on pay and conditions”.
Unite said the problems were set to increase due to European Union rules that will see maximum driving times increased and minimum rest times cut.
Sally Gilson, from the Freight Transport Association, said: “It’s important for logistics that we reach out and work to attract young people into the sector. We need to show that there are clear career opportunities and long-term prospects in logistics.”
She said there needed to be a change in the way drivers were looked after on the road, where facilities are poor. “A toilet, somewhere to eat, and a safe place to park is a very basic need and even that is difficult to find in some regions,” she said. “To attract young people and take care of the health of our older drivers, facilities need to provide healthy food options, clean toilets and showers, areas where people can socialise, free Wi-Fi and somewhere to exercise.”